Stuck in milliseconds

Being drunk, he was sleeping on a table, with a gun in his hand, in an improvised bar that had no power: only candle light and a boom box on batteries. My newly adopted father owned the bar and was doing his best to make the business float. His luck was that the Moroccan soldiers would often visit the place.

Back to the drunk boy. He was 15 and he always held a gun in his hand. It was loaded but, strangely, no one was afraid of him. In fact no one seemed to notice he was there. I could not bare the image so I wanted to know the story.

A few years before, when he was 10, the early days of the war took his father away, for good. His mother was all he had to protect him as they were living - well, surviving - alone in a house at the edge of the village. An uncle, their only human connection to the world, would sometimes visit. Just as the boy's father, he had to volunteer as a soldier to the most unwanted war.

Each visit would bring joy to the house, as the kid would get into a frenzied playing mood. What better games to play than war games? After all, they were the only games available at the time, the only thing to see around you. The uncle would indulge him and also share his shiny handgun, with the lock on.

It was a Sunday evening, dinner just finished, the boy was sleepy and the uncle ready to go. He took the boy to his arms, kissing him on the forehead as the boy was holding on to the gun, mimicking firing it. Peeoww, peeoww he went. The uncle simulated being hit, getting a victory scream from the boy. He went for the next victim, his mum, just a meter away holding on the uncle coat. Peeoww it went, just way louder than any boy can scream. 

The boy's mind got stuck on the milliseconds that followed. His mum is hit, but not yet down. 5 years stuck in a few milliseconds with no end in sight. Alcohol acts like a black screen. Simply closing the eyes doesn't work, it only makes the image clearer. 

He never let go of the gun and no one ever dared to ask him to. They were all afraid that they would get stuck in the same milliseconds and could never get away.



Tired and cold we decide to go to his uncle kebab store and grab something to eat. The good part is that it's always on the house, the bad part is I always believed I will get some exotic illness if I continue to eat there. It's no wonder I never refused a glass of rakija. Suddenly alcohol had a real purpose: to keep me healthy.

We sit at our usual table but Dejan is suddenly quiet. Weird of him, but I am too tired and hungry to give it a second thought. At the next table some guy I never saw before, utters indistinctly. Not really noticing him, I ask Dejan about the latest gathering which I considered a fiasco but all the others seemed to have enjoyed it. He doesn't answer. I repeat my question but as I am half way through, he stands up and jumps at the guy from the next table sending blow after blow to his face.

Shocked, I jump out and scream as loud as I (had no idea I) can "LEAVE HIM ALONE". The poor guy jumps off in trying to escape and it's then when I realize from his awkward behavior that he is a - oh how I hate such names - mentally challenged person. The uncle manages to get between them and stops Dejan before it's too late.

My universe collapsed right there and then. From my hero, he became the most despicable person on earth. I ran away for about 10 days before daring to watch him in the eyes again. 

When I told Rand everything that happened he asked me if I know why Dejan violently jumped on the poor guy. "Does it matter?" I ask back with an aggressive voice. "He attacked a defenseless person. There is no excuse for that. Ever." Rand does not give up though "You've known Dejan for a very long time and you know he would not do anything like this. Would you believe it if somebody would have told you this story instead of seeing it?" He then leaves me alone without giving me the chance of saying anything back. "There is no excuse" I say to myself.

Rand always had the talent of seeding thoughts in my mind that I could not get away from. Was there more to it than it was visible to the eye? I went to Dejan's cousin for a cup of tea and by jumping from discussion to discussion I tell him the story, as I saw it. There is no change in his face so I dare ask, "Who was the poor guy?" He tells me the poor guy was the neighbor of Dejan. "What?" I ask amazed? "Neighbor" I've spent months in that house and never saw that guy before. 

It seems the poor guy was indeed the neighbor who lost it during the war. We was never diagnosed or even checked by a doctor. The "mentally challenged person" label was just a guess in the end. Something seemed to be wrong with him, but no one knew for sure what. Every person in the village hated him as it seems he tended to utter indistinctly, well almost indistinctly, truths or lies about everybody. And it seems he managed to spread some dirty rumors that others picked up about Dejan's family but especially about their family guests. Me included.

"Was Dejan defending me?", the thought that did not left me for many nights. I didn't pay any attention to him mumbling that night, but Dejan must of.

"Things are not always what they seem", what a cliche... and yet we often look away and not deeper.


If not now...

54 days without electricity, cold weather, too much vinjak and a bit of too much positive (but false) attitude drove me to come up with the Nema Struja Jurca (No Power Protest Party). That Slavic attitude of partying when the house is on fire must of have been contagious, as I don't recognize myself in it. We needed protest t-shirts, a live band, good enough speakers, generators, some advertising and the only local pub around to allows us to organize it. Back home, I would get all of those with just a few phone calls but here, it took 2 weeks to gather everything.

My friends in Prishtina thought the idea was great and decided to join the party and bring some protest leaflets. Everything was coming together. A few radio stations (they were all running from a basement or a shed) invited us to talk about it so pretty soon it became the event of the year. It was easy, after all, you would be forgiven to think while passing it that the village was abandoned. 

Dejan, my partner knew how I felt about guns so he decided to guard the place and scan everyone with his 3G phone (nobody else had one in the village) telling them that it's a metal detector. When the local out of duty police man tried to get in, Dejan took a serious stand and told him he can't get in with a gun. The guy bought it and left only to come back later, hopefully without a gun. Dejan was laughing out loud feeling and behaving like a boss.

Krista, the US girl everyone loved to hate, came in with the leaflets and spread them on all the tables in the place. I remember one that jumped out: If not you, who? If not now, when? The adolescent Che we all have in us at some point, made me feel like I am doing the best thing in the world: I am driving a peaceful protest.

The party is about to start. Ohh, we forgot about the fuel for the generators. Dejan asks his brother, Goran, to take care of it and soon enough the rock band starts with the first song. The place is packed. I wonder how everyone manages to breath inside. The smoke is too thick.

I get out to catch some air. It's already night and as dark as it gets. You can easily spot the "rich" people of the village. The sound of the generators and the light of the old TVs through their windows give them away. Something doesn't seem right. The noise of the party can probably be heard from miles away. I wonder how those many families who are forced to leave in the dark, I wonder how they feel about this party. It's damn cold, I better turn back.

Dejan, a tall guy with a funny face you can't miss not even in the largest crowds, moves desperately trying to get my attention. He points towards the waitress and signals me to go to her. I never saw him that scared before so I take him serious and comply. I go to her and I see a small note in her hands as she makes her way towards the band. I ask her what is it and she says it's a message that Goran wants the band to read. I tell her that I'll take it to them.

I open it and my face changes instantly. I get out reading it over and over again. It was in Serbian but I could understand the most of it: "Brothers, let's go out, arm ourselves and storm the power plant. If not us, who? If not now, when?"